Commentary: The oxen goeth

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You remember Bill and Lou? (see, “Oxen: It’s what for dinner,” Oct. 22, 2012).

They were a pair of aging cattle that worked an on-campus farm at Vermont’s Green Mountain College, an institution that prides itself as being environmentally sustainable, to the extent the college requires all students to complete a 37-credit Environmental Education program. Given that positioning, the school intended to slaughter, process and serve beef from the oxen in the interests of actually being eco-responsible.

But I said Bill and Lou “were” a pair, because the college decided earlier this week to euthanize Lou, citing an injury to his rear leg, which required medication college officials said rendered the meat unfit to eat.

“The arrival of cold temperatures and icy conditions are certain to increase [Lou’s] suffering, and we have concurred with our veterinarians’ judgment that it was not humane for him to suffer further,” college officials said in a statement released Sunday.

The decision came amid an outcry ginned up by animal activists, who demanded that the animals be sent to a sanctuary, rather than to the dining hall. But activists didn’t just petition the college. Oh, no—that’s not how they roll.

Instead, according to a story in The New York Times, they bombarded a local packing plant with protests and threats, forcing the school to re-consider its plans.

“The slaughterhouse was barraged by threats from animal rights activists and refused the animals, so we were unable to carry through with our plan,” William Throop, the college provost, who also specializes in environmental ethics, told The Times.

Which is exactly the kind of hollow victory in which the animal rights movement specializes.

Examining the real issues

Let’s be clear about three things here:

  1. Activists always focus on slaughter as some kind of outrage. When herding animals in the wild are torn apart by a pack of wolves to die a slow, gruesome death, why, that’s perfectly acceptable. But a painless death in a modern packing plant? Unthinkable!
  2. Second, activists always raise the sanctuary issue, as if a handful of non-productive “farms” could somehow provide refuge for millions of horses, cows, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys—not to mention companion animals—if we all were suddenly to become vegans.
  3. Finally, activists of all stripes always spotlight individuals, because our human reaction to a crisis is understandably amplified when we focus on a single person or animal. Think about it: Every appeal that HSUS and kindred groups conduct features the face of a sad, lonely puppy, all the better to fleece their supporters out of some discretionary cash under the guise of rescuing said puppy.

A focus on individuals, while effective in getting people to write an email—or a check—distracts from dealing with the underlying issue. At Green Mountain College, the school’s leadership tried to provide its students with a real-world example of how you put sustainability into action, as opposed to mouthing platitudes about recycling, eco-activism and green lifestyles.

The reaction of the animal rights crowd in this case once again exposes its utter fraudulence. At the same time they preach about caring for the planet and eating only “natural” foods, they condemn an institution that actually tried to practice what it preached.

As is true of so many issues, when it comes to livestock—and food production, for that matter—the activists who bemoan the fate of Bill and Lou are ignorant at best, if not willfully deceptive.

If someone truly wants to embrace a natural lifestyle, they’d better get used to both farm and food animals, because unless you bring modern science, advanced technology and lots and lots of fossil fuels into the process, you can’t sustain human life without either working with or eating domesticated animals.

The proof of that can be found in another class taught at Green Mountain College.

It’s called history.

Look into it.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.

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November, 14, 2012 at 08:30 PM

Thank you! While I *do* think sanctuaries can serve an important purpose, and I am an advocate for improved animal welfare and small-scale animal agriculture, VINE and the protesters they riled up are guilty of making many misleading or outright false statements about GMC: Not to mention the irony of death threats and harassment from "compassionate" and "loving" vegans ... I have never been called such vile things in my life before, simply for standing up for my alma mater.

Steven Fesmire    
Green Mountain College  |  November, 14, 2012 at 09:44 PM

Our abolitionist protestors believe they possess a universal moral compass and that my colleagues over at Green Mountain College's Farm have thrown theirs overboard. On the contrary, unlike calls for a one-diet-fits-all vegan revolution, our Farm represents a culturally realistic, workable option for producing eggs, meat, and dairy products from humanely managed sources. I appreciate Mr. Murphy’s critique of those who are harassing our College and our local businesses, and I concur that humane slaughter is not simply an oxymoron (forgive the pun). But I’m still in the market for a compelling ethical defense of most large-scale Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. The fact that this is now the global standard for providing animal products reveals that it’s efficient and profitable, but does the average CAFO represent an appropriate ethical relationship between humans and domestic animals? Thankfully, there are many approaches to farming and ranching, and many diets, that offer a way forward to a more sustainable, durable, and humane future for farmers and ranchers engaged in animal agriculture. Unfortunately, abolitionist black-and-white logic rules out any third way between veganism (no animal products) and the massive operations that provide the vast majority of the over nine billion animals slaughtered annually in the U.S. Steven Fesmire Professor of Philosophy and Environmental Studies Green Mountain College

Janet Weeks    
Sacramento, CA  |  November, 15, 2012 at 03:24 PM

The vast majority of the 50,000 people who signed the petition pleading for the lives of Bill and Lou to be spared made no threats of violence. GMC is overstating the case and using one or two threats that might have been made to gain sympathy and support. By and large, the animal rights community is a peaceful, nonviolent group of gentle, caring, compassionate people. We aim to STOP violence and suffering, not perpetuate it by killing and eating others. Any threats that were made came from those in the minority who feared the worst for Bill and Lou. Who can blame them when our pleas for compassion were ignored? While I don’t condone threats of violence, I understand the frustration that comes of being ignored. Green Mountain College officials ignored our polite letters and heartfelt emails begging that they show mercy. I wrote three letters myself and received NO reply, but I never threatened anyone. My heart breaks for Lou. He was someone, not something. As for Bill, I fear the worst. As soon as they can sneak him off to slaughter, they will. Animal flesh and animal products will NOT feed the hungry–not in any sustainable way. Meat is for the privileged few who can afford such unsustainable luxury.

Janet Weeks    
Sacramento, CA  |  November, 15, 2012 at 03:25 PM

Those of us who fight for animal justice do so with a vision and higher goal of obtaining justice for ALL beings who suffer, human and nonhuman alike. Those millions of starving people, those suffering from disease and living in poverty, are interconnected with those billions of animals living in “gulags of despair,” also known as factory farms. In our greed and demand for animal products, we, in the wealthiest nations, take food from the very hands of the poor to feed to billions of animals so we can eat the animals, yes even in these so-called “sustainable” models. Animal agriculture is unsustainable in any shape or form–from factory farms to your happy little farms in Vermont. The bottom line is we MUST change our eating habits to exclude animal products if the world’s poor and hungry have any hope of survival. Green Mountain College is out of step with reality.

Janet Weeks    
Sacramento, CA  |  November, 15, 2012 at 03:26 PM

If I am incorrect about the unsustainability of animal agriculture, then so too must be Worldwatch Institute, an independent research institute devoted to global environmental concerns, AND Albert Einstein, among many others. “Albert Einstein, who was better known for his physics and math than for his interest in the living world, once said: ‘Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.’ We don’t think he was just talking about nutrition. Notice that in this article we haven’t said much at all about the role of meat in nutrition, even though there’s a lot more to talk about than heart disease. Nor have we gone into the ethics of vegetarianism, or of animal rights. The purpose of those omissions is not to brush off those concerns, but to point out that on ecological and economic grounds alone, meat-eating is now a looming problem for humankind. You don’t have to have any conscience at all to know that the age of heavy meat-eating will soon be over as surely as will the age of oil.”

USA  |  November, 15, 2012 at 04:53 PM

Janet Weeks,very well said.

USA  |  November, 15, 2012 at 04:54 PM

Janet Weeks,very well said.

USA  |  November, 15, 2012 at 04:55 PM

Janet Weeks,very well said.

Terry Ward    
pa.  |  November, 15, 2012 at 04:56 PM

Soooo many people want it both ways.. Ya' can't have your pets and eat them too Well, maybe in China...

Phil Barnes    
Vermont  |  November, 15, 2012 at 09:32 PM

Janet, Most animal rights activists avoid violence, but you've shown that some of them like to preach from their moral high horse. Wear your plastic crocs shoes and eat your lentils, but know that you won't convince anyone that you're right and they're wrong. GMC was mailbombed by people like you ranting in emails, calling at all hours, harassing anyone you could. You posting 3 messages here alone. Only a self-important busy-body could possibly think that GMC could possibly respond to your whining diatribes. Hamburgers, steak, ribs, etc taste just fine to me. If you don't want to eat them, don't. But stop trying to impose your morality on others.

November, 15, 2012 at 10:26 PM

I am disappointed to see this article regarding the very low opinion of people who care about animals, and am appalled also at the desire to kill Lou, as well as Bill. If GMC is truly transparent, I would like them to give proof of Vet records as well as euthanasia records for Lou. I do believe that GMC built up the protest aspect, with a Common Cause Request in mind all along to justify their farm and to justify doing whatever they wish to do with their animals, and that is not right. GMC is NOT a model for "the world" in sustainable farming at all. They use outdated methods of draft animals because it is "cool" and something to learn from, however, the oxen were NOT brought to GMC to ever be meat animals, and were not purchased by the College and I question "ownership." I realize someone did threaten them, and of course that it not right, but I do not believe it was actual animal organizations who did threats, at all. Talk about "tragically wanting to avoid accountability for what we eat" - GMC tried to evade responsibility for wanting to kill the oxen in the first place, trying to blame Animal Rights "activists" for having to euthanize Lou. GMC euthanized Lou because they CHOSE to euthanize Lou. I find it very disconcerting that a college would spend time trying to blame instead of taking accountability for what they chose to do and choose to do. I am not impressed with using Gov. Shumlin and the Dept of Ag's words as "proof" that what GMC does/did is was built upon and put into other statements by the college, just as this article I am sure has been, and just as Ag responses to the Common Cause Request I am sure will be.

Michael poling    
November, 15, 2012 at 10:47 PM

Be careful, if Dan Murphy doesn't like your comment he starts emailing you on the email address you fill in when you make comment, strange how the " extremist groups " are the ones being accused of bullying, maybe we should write a letter to his boss with all the emails he is sending representing hie employer as Mr Fonteyn is so fond of doing.

New York  |  November, 15, 2012 at 11:21 PM

I hear you want to bait me? Go for it. :-)

New York  |  November, 15, 2012 at 11:26 PM

Fonteyn doesn't have the cojones to engage in a public debate. Let's leave him to play with his Matchbox cars and Barbie Dolls.

New York  |  November, 16, 2012 at 12:09 AM

Speaking of "if we all were suddenly to become vegans", PCRM, Physicians for Responsible Medicine (RESPONSIBLE being the operative word), and other physician organizations are going to have warning labels put on meat packages just like cigarette packages. (Howju like dem apples??) And please don't think for a minute it won't happen. If we did it to tobacco, it's only a matter of time before we get on meat. Animal flesh is killing human beings, and since we are a responsible species, we must inform and protect those who don't know. Sure not everybody quit smoking, (nor will they ALL stop eating flesh) but it sure put a dent in it, especially the younger, more informed generation. Count your profits whilst you have them.

November, 16, 2012 at 12:15 AM

phil, go choke on your meat!

Janet Weeks V    
Sacramento, CA  |  November, 16, 2012 at 09:21 AM

:) So, Michael, you got a private email from Dan Murphy? That's funny. I got one too. Here's the tired and worn-out old meat-eaters' justification he sent me (we've all heard this one before) ... Dan Murphy: "So what about the Maasai people in Africa's Serengeti, who are herders living primarily on milk, meat and blood from their cattle? Even Oxfam has said more Africans ought to adapt to a similar pastoral livelihood, given the impact of climate change. "Or how about the the native Inuit people in Alaska and the Canadian Arctic? What are they supposed to live on, soy burgers and salad? "If killing animals for sustenance is so horribly wrong then what do you say to the Native Americans who lived on this continent in harmony with Nature for 30,000 years? They got it all wrong? They're a bunch of savages? "I'm curious to hear your response."

Janet Weeks V    
Sacramento, CA  |  November, 16, 2012 at 09:27 AM

Dan Murphy: "I'm curious to hear your response." Me: "The GMC students are not Masai or Inuits. They live near grocery stores with thousands of healthy, delicious vegan items all year-round. "Meanwhile, the UN, the Worldwatch Institute, and environmental and public health organizations across the globe have urged us to consume fewer animal products in order to feed an ever-increasing human population. "Many Native American tribes, such as the Choctaws, were mostly vegetarian. Again, it's not the 1800s. We can buy a dizzying array of veggie meats, grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and other plant- based foods with ease. "Another error in your comparison to Indians: The population is a lot bigger now. With a small population, almost anything, including factory farming, is relatively sustainable. With our current population, we can't all hunt--that would wipe out wildlife in no time--and raising and killing 56 billion domesticated land animals and killing close to a trillion fish each year isn't working out so well either. This, of course, ignores the horrid, short lives and brutal deaths that most of the land animals and fish-farmed animals are forced to endure--and that may be inevitable at the current high level of demand for cheap meat and dairy. You could also check out any vegan FAQ page that's been written in the last 25 years. Here's a great one for starters:

Janet Weeks    
Sacramento, CA  |  November, 16, 2012 at 11:12 AM

Another private email from Dan Murphy: "Well? What about it? Tired or not, either it's okay to kill and eat animals or it's not. Which is it?" My reply: "By and large, in this day and age, the logical answer is NO: it is NOT okay nor is it necessary for humans to massively breed, intensively confine, kill, and eat other beings. Humans can live and thrive on plant-based foods, we have the means and technology to do so, and we'd be a lot smarter if we did. Earth's resources of water, air, land, and fuel are limited, therefore, we should NOT be bringing into existence billions--YES BILLIONS--of additional mouths to feed--those nonhuman animals you want to kill and eat--when so many humans are starving around the world. Viewed from that angle, it makes utterly no sense to waste precious resources to feed precious crops to animals (so a privileged few can eat the animals) that could be used instead to feed the world's poor and hungry humans."

Janet Weeks    
Sacramento, CA  |  November, 16, 2012 at 12:35 PM

I have a voice, Phil, and I can write. I will use these tools and gifts at my disposal to advocate for humanity, Earth, and animals as I see fit and in alignment with the morality of millions of others who have made the connection. We will not be silenced, despite your insults.


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